Did you know that about 40% of all Americans are sensitive or allergic to the gluten found in wheat products? Many don’t even know it yet. 1 out of 133 are severe enough to be labeled as celiac. And if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for some time and have yet to conceive, or have had multiple unexplained miscarriages, you may want to pay attention.
You know what? Pay attention anyways.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, and rye. It helps bread dough to be elastic and causes it to rise. But one of the problems with gluten now is that it’s in everything! And to much of a good thing is well….not a good thing. We eat more wheat products now than ever in history because breads are so convenient. And food manufacturers place wheat and/or wheat gluten in a large majority of processed foods. Another one of the other issues with our modern wheat breads is that it has changed over the last century, as we’ve become a society that loves nice fluffy breads and baked goods. To achieve this we’ve hybridized the actual wheat berry so that it now contains more of this gluten protein and we also add more in later while baking to give it that extra rise. The fact that the USDA food pyramid claims we need more wheat and grains than any other food group is also of great concern. (One of the other reasons that a lot of people do better off of wheat is that they are no longer experiencing the blood sugar issues associated with digesting breads, plus they are now eating more whole foods and not relying on packaged, processed stuff!)
In people who are sensitive to gluten, the body actually attacks the lining of the intestine, damaging the gut wall and causing pain, diarrhea, constipation, and mal absorption of nutrients. The main problem with gluten intolerance or gluten allergies is that their can be a very long list of very different things – and not all of them are specific to the gut.
- Abdominal pain
- Ear Infections (especially chronic infections in small children)
- Eczema or chronic skin irritation
- Bloating and Gas
- Depression and Anxiety
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Fatigue and weakness
- Infertility and multiple miscarriage
- Aching joints or overall body soreness
- Weight Loss (unexplained)
People with celiac disease, a wheat allergy, on average suffer for about 7 years before a diagnosis is made. And their intestinal wall is constantly being damaged during that time.
Our Story with Gluten
Last February, while doing some research for a blog post, I stumbled across an article about gluten that made me think my husbands health may change for the better if he went gluten free. After convincing him to give it a try I started cooking completely gluten free for him while retaining just a small amount of wheat products in my and my sons diet.
The first week or so was tough as not only did we have to get used to eating completely different, he started to experience withdrawal/detox symptoms and some pretty bad headaches. A couple weeks went by and he started to notice he felt better. And not just the things we thought would get better! He started sleeping better through the night and he wasn’t as sore and tired as he had been previously. After about 3 months he decided to try a bit of bread to see what happened. And boy did he find out! He got headaches for 3 days, muscle pains and aches, and stomach upset. It was clear he was sensitive to gluten.
A year later his body has healed enough where he can tolerate a small amount of wheat and normally only in the form of spelt. I have also noticed that not only do I feel much better when I don’t eat a lot of wheat, and my son’s behavior is better as well. So I currently limit our consumption of wheat/gluten products to one serving or less per day, and I may look to limiting it further.
Gluten and Infertility
Melissa Diane Smith, author of “Going Against the Grain” has been stated as saying that the leading cause of recurrent miscarriage is an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. She also said that 85% of her PCOS clients showed positive for it as well. (It is also been shown to have a direct correlation with Endometriosis as well) Men are not immune to infertility due to celiac either as they may also suffer from unexplained infertility.
So how does gluten specifically affect fertility? No one really knows for sure actually. But one of the thoughts is that the damage to the intestinal wall can lead to a lot of malabsorption. Mal absorption leads to the body not being fed what it needs in order to produce the right amounts of hormones needed for conception or to bring a pregnancy to term. There is also the fact that celiac is an auto immune disease meaning that the immune system begins to attack parts of your body. And while pregnant, an attack on any part of your body is a very bad thing.
What You Can Do
If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, your doctor can run a blood test to see if you in fact have celiac. The one issue I do see with this test is that if you don’t have celiac, but are just gluten sensitive, it doesn’t show up. If that happens to be the case, I do know that holistic doctors out there have a different test they use, though I’m not sure of the name of it, but it measures your reaction to foods differently. Alternatively, you could also try going gluten free for a couple months! (It takes at least a few weeks for the effects of the wheat to get out of your system, so one week just isn’t long enough) Watch for symptoms when you cut it out, and if you in fact have an intolerance to it, you’ll notice when you eat something with gluten in it after a month or so. And even if you haven’t had a positive diagnosis, your health care professional can help you figure out what a gluten free diet may look like for you.
Going gluten free can be tough – I won’t lie to you. But it can also be very worth it in the end! There are now a lot of different resources both online and in print which does make it easier, but gluten free living is a total switch from a normal American diet. Gluten is used in a lot of processed foods and you really have to start reading the labels, and if you truly have celiac, that means replacing things like your toaster and cutting boards. You also need to make sure that your not just looking for substitutes for your normal fare! Gluten free eating can be just as unhealthy if you constantly buy products that are full of other ingredients (bad fats, sugar, stabilizers) that help get the texture close to wheat. My advice would be to also research a primal or paloe diet and equip yourself with recipes from them so that you can cut out your bread and bread substitutes. (Plus GF items are expensive!!)
More Resources about Gluten Intolerance:
Since it would take a book to write all there is to know about gluten sensitivities, here are a few other resources for you.
My friend Michele, over at Frugal Granola, actually found out (herself!) that she had celiac. This was after she had multiple miscarriages and other health issues. Though not online much anymore (since she had her first full term pregnancy and baby born last August!) her site has some great information and gluten free recipes. She was the one whose brain I picked constantly while making the switch to Gluten Free eating last year.
We also did a week long series on gluten last fall :
- The Silent Cause to Poor Health – a fabulous, everyone should listen to podcast
- The Transition to Gluten Free – a guest post by Kat from SCDKat.com
- Gluten Free Easily – a guest post from Shirley of GFE
- Gluten Free Beauty – a guest post by Kristen of Gluten Free Beauty
- Gluten, Grains, and Children with Developmental Issues – guest post by Cara or Health, Home, Happiness
- and the 4 part Gluten Free Panel: part one, part two, part three, part four
- Wheatless Wednesday
- Is Wheat “Bad” for You?
- Wheatless Breakfast
- Can You Prevent Gluten Intolerance?
So is going gluten free something you’ve ever looked into, or do you know you have an intolerance to it?
What is your biggest hangup about such a diet change?
This post is linked to Kitchen Stewardships Spring Cleaning Carnival where today everyone is posting about Getting the Gluten Out, so head on over there to find more information as well!